When Athol Fugard’s play ‘Master Harold…and the Boys’ was first produced in the early 1980s it was greeted with critical acclaim, a Tony Award nomination and, naturally, instant blacklisting in South Africa. Fugard, a South Africa playwright, was made ‘keenly aware of the injustices of the apartheid’ when working as a clerk in the native Commissioners Court, yet what’s interesting about this play is that it doesn’t concentrate on court proceedings or political exchanges. In fact, for the first thirty minutes, it doesn’t seem to be denouncing the apartheid at all. All the audience seems to see is the comfortable relationship a young boy has formed with his mother’s two black employees. It is the gradual change of the boy from innocent youth to vicious bigot that must have made the play so transfixing and prominent in the 1980s. It is the skill of Fugard that makes it still so undeniably devastating.
The script, containing so many shifts in relationships and attitudes, is difficult to get right. Director Luana Laubeski seperates the audience from the actors with two sides of vertical wires in place of the walls, as if the audience is truly looking in on the events. The effect is a prison-like atmosphere, slightly misleading as it bears no relevance to the setting but an interesting manifestation of the fourth wall. The play starts gently as the seemingly wise and confident Sam (Paul Davis) teaches the quickstep to the meek Willie (Prince Plockey). The interaction between Davis and Plockey is consistently entertaining with both actors giving natural and convincing performances. Davis in particular (though maybe simply because his role allows it) stands out as an actor of tremendous and commanding presence with a powerful voice and stature.
The dynamic changes when ‘Master’ Harold (Lachlan Bond) pedals onto stage on his red bicycle. Embodying the classic upper class school boy stereotype: a touch of ‘pip pip’, a frightfully RP accent, Bond treads a fine line between making the audience feel sorry for his character and making them despise it. The difficulty of the role lies in making Harold seem fun and boyish at the begining of the play, whilst keeping enough sanctimonious venom that his transition into a racist feels believable, all the time retaining the constant fear of his abusive father’s return from hospital. Although his Afrikaans accent comes and goes, Bond is snivelingly pitiful and his interactions with Davis are the most interesting to watch, especially as the tension grows and blows are nearly exchanged. What might slightly put you off the drama is the clumsy use of lighting but because of its infrequency it has little impact on the production.
‘Master Harold… and the Boys’ is a masterful play and this intense and touching production does justice to both its political and domestic aspects. Although the whole cast was strong, Paul Davis is very nearly stole the show and both him and Laubeski are ones to watch for the future.
Have a look at the rest of the shows in Mountview Postgraduate Director’s season here: www.mountview.org.uk/shows/shows/postgraduate-directors.html or have a look a the rest of our reviews.